Australia’s “Singing Tower”
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN AUSTRALIA
ART, technology, and science have often combined in the field of music to produce a variety of instruments of outstanding quality. But while the violins of Antonius Stradivarius and the flutes of Theobald Böhm may be well-known, generally little is known of the majestic carillon.
But what is a carillon, and how is it played? A visit to one of the world’s major carillons will be enlightening and will perhaps deepen our appreciation for its unique music.
An Immense Instrument
The carillon is among the world’s largest musical instruments and is of ancient origin. It is usually set in a bell tower and hence has been appropriately referred to as a “singing tower.” The carillon and bell tower at Canberra, Australia’s capital, was a jubilee gift from the government of Great Britain in 1963 to commemorate the founding and naming of the city 50 years earlier. The carillon is located on Aspen Island in the center of picturesque Lake Burley Griffin.
This 160-foot-[50 m]high bell tower consists of a cluster of three triangular shafts, each one aligned to a side of a central equilateral triangle. High above and suspended between the three shafts are the floors that house the carillon itself.
The elevator in the tower takes us up to the first platform, where we are greeted by two large claviers, or keyboards, similar to those of organs. The first one is just for the carillonneur, as the performer is called, to practice his performance. The hammers from this keyboard merely strike on tuning bars.
Almost backing the practice keyboard is the real carillon clavier. But it is no ordinary keyboard, for it has large, round oak keys approximately three quarters of an inch [2 cm] in diameter. The upper row of keys represents the familiar black keys of a piano or organ. They project some three and a half inches [9 cm], whereas the lower row (representing the piano’s white keys) protrudes about six and a half inches [17 cm]. In contrast to a pianist or organist, however, the carillonneur does not use his fingers but plays with closed hands. That is why the keys are widely spaced—so that the player can avoid touching other keys while playing.
A Truly Imposing Mechanism
From the top of the main clavier, wires ascend to the floor above, and each key of the four and a half octaves is connected to a separate steel wire with a curious tension adjustment on it. To find out where all these wires lead, we take the elevator to the next floor. Here two massive bells, each weighing about six tons, hang imposingly. Then, looking between these bells, we see suspended above them yet another 51 bells gradually ascending to the smallest bell, which weighs just 15 pounds [7 kg].
All the bells are placed strategically to prevent any acoustic interference, occasionally caused by dominant harmonics of some of the bells. Each bell, with its soft metal clapper on the inside, is activated by the steel wire connected to each key of the clavier below. The tension is finely adjusted to suit the individual touch of each carillonneur as well as the prevailing weather conditions.
Some Interesting Facts
The bells in the Canberra carillon were cast in the foundry of John Taylor and Company of England and are fine 20th-century examples of an ancient art. The bells can ring out their melodies across the waters of the lake and into adjacent gardens and parks.
This carillon is not the largest in the world, but with 53 bells it ranks high on the list, for most carillons have between 23 and 48 bells. However, the largest carillon is in New York City. It has 74 bells. It also has the world’s largest tuned bell. This bell weighs over 18 tons and sounds a low C, in comparison to the Canberra carillon with its low F sharp.
So now let’s enjoy a concert given by the carillonneur. Shall we sit in the gardens below? Here we can not only hear the magnificent music of the “singing tower” but at the same time enjoy the marvels of creation that surround us. The still of the evening air and the impressive height of the bells combine to produce seemingly ethereal music, filling our hearts with gratitude for the divine gift of music.
[Picture on page 25]
The bells in the tower